Hot lunch: Bynes and Stone in Easy
by Will Gluck
Since making a comedy based on the real lives of American
teens is hard (and potentially dangerous), Easy A follows
in the footsteps of Clueless (Jane Austen) and Ten
Things I Hate About You (Shakespeare) and borrows heavily
from a work in the literary canon—Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The
Odd choice, huh? But now, as then, it’s perfectly acceptable
to ruin a woman’s life based on a presumed right to police
her sexuality. In Letter, American Puritan Hester Prynne
gets knocked up out of wedlock and is ostracized by her village;
here, American teenager Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) loses
her virginity to a community-college dude, and follows this
up by tramping around with a few of her high-school classmates.
She is then ostracized by almost everyone at her school.
Except, of course, that Olive doesn’t really lose her
virginity or become sexually active; if she did, she wouldn’t
be the lead character in a Hollywood movie. (She’d be a slut.)
Olive fakes losing her virginity, owing to circumstances
and motives that move beyond real-world logic into the realm
Of course, there’s a trap in this kind of contorted farce:
It reinforces the status quo mores. It doesn’t challenge them.
The contradictions portrayed in the film’s teen world are
many. While they act and speak with unbridled vulgarity—“I’m
known for having big tits? Yes!” says Olive’s BFF—these
teens are sexually ineffectual and chaste. And while these
youth live in a world of R-rated entertainment, it’s possible
to get detention—and move yourself one step closer to being
expelled—by uttering an innocent epithet like “twat.”
Having read enough stories in the daily papers about suburban
parents going batshit over some similar happening, this scene
rang true. As for the rest—hey, it’s only a Hollywood movie.
And, oddly enough, it’s not at all a bad movie.
Emma Stone, as Olive, is wonderfully self-possessed and thoroughly
convincing, whether dealing with painful situations in a mature
way or calling the school’s crazy Christian girl (Amanda Bynes)—you
guessed it—a twat. You believe Olive is capable of navigating
the plot’s emotional contortions.
Director Will Gluck tarts things up with a lot of cinematic
sass—freeze-frames, speeded-up motion, crazy camera moves—which
prove clever enough to not become annoying. The cast is delightful,
from Olive’s goofy parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley
Tucci) to the school’s badass principal (Malcolm McDowell)
to her gruff, deadpan favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church)
and his wife, the guidance counselor from hell (Lisa Kudrow).
And while the moon-faced Bynes is very fine as the aforementioned
crazy Christian girl, can we get rid of “crazy Christian girl”
as a teen-movie staple?
Whatevs. Maybe Easy A will inspire a few kids to read
The Scarlet Letter. More likely, though, it will inspire
some studio to greenlight a teenage reworking of, say, a restoration
play. ‘Tis Pity She’s a Hoe, anyone?
on Ya, Fellas
by David Michôd
In the midst of an extended “good cop” hard sell, detective
Nathan Leckie (Guy Pierce) delivers a boiled-down version
of the survival of the fittest: There’s the strong, those
protected by the strong and—to paraphrase—the screwed. In
Leckie’s rendition, 17-year-old Josh “J” Cody (James Frecheville)
is about to be demoted.
J’s family—a notorious, if unglamorous band of Australian
career criminals—is fracturing under the murderous pursuit
of the renegade armed-robbery section of the police department.
J, a formerly estranged latecomer to the gang, is caught between
the cops, on the one hand, and the treachery of his mentally
unstable Uncle “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn), on the other.
Rogue cops have assassinated the moral center of the family,
Uncle Baz, who was ready to kick the crime habit for day trading,
anyway. So, in Baz’s absence, the batshit crazy and paranoid
Pope takes over, becoming “boss” to the coked-up and comic
Uncle Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and the fair-haired and ineffectual
pothead, Uncle Darren (Luke Ford). Flitting about them all
is J’s uncomfortably affectionate grandmother, Janine “Smurf”
Cody (Jacki Weaver).
Though Detective Leckie is, as a cop and a mustache wearer,
less than 100-percent confidence-inspiring, J’s family is
not one bit more so. Herein lies the drama: the decision making.
Animal Kingdom is not a fast-paced movie. Despite some
plot similarities to Scorcese’s Good Fellas, this story
of an “innocent” drawn into a life of crime, endangered and
pushed toward betrayal by association with a reckless psychopath
unfolds slowly, even tediously.
Oddly, that is one of its strengths. Much of criminality is
waiting. Hiding. Biding time. The slow, sick dull tension
of this life is well conveyed in Animal Kingdom, as
is the paradoxical clannishness and pervasive mistrust. J,
as one of the weak, must align himself with the strong, he
must belong to and with someone—but who can be trusted?
On that subject, filmmaker David Michod takes a tack that
is more noir than mob-family drama—with great effect. Noir’s
emphasis was always on the individual—more existential dilemma
than sociocultural study—and Michod and his characters have
some neat tricks up their sleeves. All of which are conveyed
effectively, with minimal grandstanding or big actorish moments
by an economical and extremely talented cast.
Pearce’s pitch centers the movie as a story of the survival
of the fittest; but in Animal Kingdom, as in the animal
kingdom, weakness can be ruse and strength comes camouflaged.
Weisz in Agora.
by Alejandro Amenabar
opens with a lecture. A lecture on astronomy, at a time
when civilization still believed that the sun revolved around
the earth. But since the lecturer is Hypatia, the beautiful
and brilliant daughter of the director of the great Library
of Alexandria, and because Hypatia is played by Rachel Weisz
with compelling poise, the opening sequence of Alejandro Amenabar’s
historical epic is more engaging than it sounds. Hypatia is
surrounded by adoring disciples, including a household slave,
Davus (Max Minghella), with a promising future in science.
While Davus secretly smolders for Hypatia, another student,
the aristocratic Orestes (Oscar Isaac), courts her openly.
And is refused. With the blessings of her father, Theon (Michael
Lonsdale), Hypatia lives as freely as a man.
But not many men are living freely in Roman Egypt 391 AD.
Though Hypatia, an atheist, is purely devoted to science,
the society she teaches in is in the midst of theological,
political, and social upheaval. The Egyptian pagan hierarchy
is being challenged by a rapidly growing Christian population—at
one point, a Christian rabble attacks the library, demoralizing
the confident defenders by their unexpected numbers. One of
the Christian thugs is Davus, who remains conflicted between
his love for Hypatia and science, and the freedom, power,
and blind devotion of Christianity. Meanwhile Roman politicos
and religious leaders, including the Jewish elite, scheme
and plot for control. The favored battle tactic is throwing
stones, which gives the violence a biblical force beyond the
usual swords-and-sandals pile-ups.
Yet despite its evocative palette of sandy beiges and iconographic
blues, the film is muddy in tone. At times, it lurches into
ineptly choreographed action scenes (the talented Amenabar
is noticeably inexperienced with large-scale conflicts); at
others, it tries for a mystical ambience, with aerial shots
of the populace scurrying around like insects, or satellite
visions of the cosmos that Hypatia is struggling to understand.
Amenabar (director of The Others and The Sea Inside
Me) is better with the personal than the political, as
when Hypatia firmly stands for philosophy above religion,
even when her refusal to become Christian puts her in danger.
The momentum is also dampened by a midlife break of several
years, during which Hypatia comes closer to understanding
planetary motion and Orestes becomes a prefect who relies
on her intellect though he can’t win her heart. A little too
gradually, the young bishop Cyril (Sami Samir) rises to villainous
So yes, Agora is epic in scope, if not in sweep. The
central problem—besides some of the meandering narrative (especially
concerning Hypatia’s failing father, and later, the role of
the Roman army)—is that Hypatia herself is lost in the tumult
of history. She is made eminently admirable as a scientist,
but little is revealed of her as a person. Ironically, Agora’s
pseudo yet powerful ending makes it most memorable as a love